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Man Shot by Arlington Police Claims Officers Opened Fire as He Tried to Surrender

An Arlington man shot by police claims officers aren’t telling the whole story about the incident that led up to the shooting — and he expects video evidence will help him prove his case in court.

County police shot Steven Best several times on May 3 on a street just off Columbia Pike, claiming he tried to flee a traffic stop and nearly hit officers with his van in the process.

But, in a series of court filings, Best’s attorneys allege that he was trying to surrender when police opened fire on him. They claim he was confused and trying to protect himself as he drove away from the scene, rather than attempting to harm any of the officers involved.

Best’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comments on those claims, but court documents show they’ve repeatedly sought access to video footage from nearby businesses, arguing that it will provide Best with crucial “exculpatory evidence.”

“He’ll be innocent of these charges when everything comes out,” Heather Rose, Best’s sister, told ARLnow. Best and the rest of his family otherwise declined to comment on the case, but they’ve frequently proclaimed his innocence in an online fundraiser to pay for Best’s legal and medical expenses.

County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said she “can’t speak” to Best’s claims of innocence, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos declined to discuss them as well.

In the police department’s account of the shooting, officers tried to pull over Best near the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Edgewood Street, as they were searching for the passenger in Best’s car: 40-year-old Jessica Lary of Annandale, who was wanted on a warrant for violating her parole.

Police say officers approached the vehicle on foot, but that Best “ignored their verbal commands and struck police vehicles in an attempt to flee the scene.” Two officers then opened fire on Best as he drove down 12th Street S., striking a parked car in the process.

Police say Lary and Best abandoned the vehicle near the intersection of 13th Street S. and S. Irving Street, where they were subsequently arrested. Savage added that neither Best nor Lary displayed any weapons during the incident. Three police officers were taken to a nearby hospital “for evaluation” afterward.

In Best’s version of events, several “unmarked police vehicles abruptly boxed in” his van and “unidentified officers drew their weapons immediately and began firing.”

His attorneys claim that Best “raised his hands to surrender,” leading to one of his fingers being “shot off.” The lawyers allege he was then shot “five additional times while sitting in his van.”

“Mr. Best attempted to drive away for the safety of himself and his passenger,” the lawyers wrote.

The attorneys made these arguments as part of an attempt to earn Best’s release on bond in mid-May. They acknowledged his past run-ins with law enforcement — Arlington court records show Best pleaded guilty to a series of drug charges from 1999 through 2008 — but argued he’d been working to turn his life around.

A judge ultimately agreed to his release, and to discontinue his electronic monitoring.

Best’s case will now head to a grand jury, which will determine whether his prosecution will move forward. Police originally charged Best with two counts of the attempted malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer, but he’s now only facing one — Stamos says prosecutors decided to move forward with the pursuit of a single charge against Best “after a review by my office.”

The case was originally set to go to a grand jury in August, but Stamos now hopes to “present the case to the grand jury later this month.” A grand jury is currently set to convene on Sept. 24.

In the meantime, court documents show that both Best’s lawyers and prosecutors are pursuing surveillance video from businesses in the area.

Best’s attorneys most recently won a subpoena for video from the Day’s Inn hotel at 3030 Columbia Pike, arguing that the video recordings of the hotel’s exterior parking lots “contains exculpatory evidence” for Best. The lots are located near the intersection of 11th Street S. and S. Highland Street, roughly a block from where police say the incident took place.

Photo via GoFundMe

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Beyer, Democratic Members of Congress Visit Arlington’s Immigration Court

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and some of his Democratic colleagues believe most children up for a hearing at Arlington’s immigration court are being treated fairly — but they worry that could soon change.

Beyer, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and several other members of Congress sat in for some hearings at the federal immigration court in Crystal City today (Thursday), and broadly came away pleased with what they saw, despite the chaos surrounding the Trump administration’s recent practice of separating children from families at the Mexican border.

Yet Beyer and his fellow Democrats fear what might happen should leadership at the court change. They’ve heard rumors that Jack Weil, a longtime immigration judge at the Department of Justice, could soon start hearing cases in Arlington, and they’re disturbed by his history.

Weil attracted nationwide attention after testifying that he believes children as young as 3 years old can represent themselves in immigration proceedings. Though all of the kids the members of Congress saw Thursday had legal representation, the Democrats expressed disbelief that any judge would decide whether a toddler should be deported without a lawyer present.

“It’s really disturbing, especially because we understand [Weil] is training other judges,” Beyer told reporters. “Look at all the conversations we have about the poor decisions of our 20-year-olds… The thought that even a 12-year-old, 13-year-old can make good decisions in court is silly.”

Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.) noted that many of the cases the congressional delegation observed involved complex asylum applications, underscoring just how complicated an immigration hearing could be even for adults who speak English. She believes it would be “insane” to ask a child to attempt to navigate the process.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) felt Arlington’s courthouse generally represented “the best process possible” for kids seeking asylum. But she added that even this court only had Spanish translation services available, when people coming from somewhere like Guatemala could speak one of the country’s other 22 languages instead.

Beyer said Congress should act to provide funding for lawyers for immigrant children, given that that nonprofits stepping up to help can only provide representation for a small fraction of kids making their way through the system. With President Trump tweeting that immigrants should be deported “with no judges or court cases,” the Democrats said they realized the odds were long, but said it would be worth the effort.

“We can do this if we have the will and compassion to do this,” Hoyer said. “This is America. We believe in due process.”

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State Lawmakers Urge Arlington’s Top Prosecutor to Reform Cash Bail System

A group of state lawmakers is urging Arlington’s top prosecutor to reform the county’s cash bail bond system — but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos thinks they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Each one of the three state senators and four state delegates representing Arlington in Richmond, not to mention two lawmakers from nearby Falls Church, sent a letter on the subject to Stamos last Thursday (June 21).

Echoing efforts by criminal justice reform advocates around the country, the lawmakers argued that requiring people to post a cash bond to earn their freedom contributes to the “disproportionate incarceration of low-income individuals and people of color.” They’d rather see Stamos adopt a system for pretrial release “based more on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s perceived public safety and flight risk, rather than the ability to pay.”

“The current system of cash bail is broken in that it conditions the pretrial release of individuals on the ability to pay, violating the principle of the presumption of innocence that is foundational to our criminal justice system,” the lawmakers wrote.

Stamos says she’s joined some of her colleagues around the state in examining such a policy change, but, fundamentally, she feels this “was a rather silly letter to send me.”

“I think the letter is misguided on a number of levels,” Stamos told ARLnow. “If these members of the General Assembly have a problem with cash bail, they should change the law. It’s perfectly within their power to do so.”

Stamos says prosecutors in her office regularly recommend releasing people on “personal recognizance bonds,” giving them the chance to go free before trial with paying. However, Stamos feels bound by state law, which obligates prosecutors to evaluate if someone charged with a crime “is a flight risk or a threat to the community” when assigning a cash bond.

“I understand the considerations around cash bail, but the countervailing considerations are: who is being held and why are they being held?” Stamos said. “Do they have a prior criminal history? Are they a flight risk? Many of our defendants are from D.C. or Maryland, and we don’t have the resources to be extraditing everyone.”

Yet the lawmakers argue in their letter that other jurisdictions have seen success with such a policy change, noting that prosecutors in Richmond agreed to end cash bail earlier this year.

They point out that most low-income people can’t afford to post a sizable cash bond, which often “translates to weeks of missed income, employment or education before ever having been convicted of a crime.” The lawmakers add that holding so many people before their trials start can be costly for the county — they estimate Arlington pays as much as $182 per day for each person it holds in jail, while other methods of pretrial monitoring can cost as little as $7 each day.

Stamos agrees that there could be “some adjustments we can make” to the process, but she also urged the lawmakers to consider the impact of a policy change for everyone involved in each court proceeding.

“There is a cost as well for witnesses or victims of crime who come to court and the defendant doesn’t show up,” Stamos said.

Most of all, however, Stamos is confused why the lawmakers chose to fire off a letter to her on the issue, rather than working with her a bit more directly.

“Not one of my good colleagues in the General Assembly have one time picked up the phone about this,” Stamos said. “This is news to me that this is a big concern of theirs. Not one has asked me about my position.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington Doctor Sentenced in Poisoning Case — Arlington doctor Sikander Imran was sentenced Friday to three years in prison, with 17 years suspended, for slipping pills into his pregnant girlfriend’s tea, causing her to lose the unborn baby. The now ex-girlfriend pleaded for leniency during the sentencing. [WJLA, New York Daily News]

Miniature Horses Could Be Allowed at Schools — “A new policy defining the rights and responsibility of those – students, staff or visitors – wishing to bring service animals into schools would allow for dogs and miniature horses… schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told the Sun Gazette there are no miniature horses used as service animals in the school system at the moment.” [InsideNova]

Powhatan Skate Park Renovations Approved — The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously approved a $1.87 million contract to overhaul the Powhatan Springs Skate Park, the only such park in Arlington. “This well-loved skate park is in need of a makeover to address crumbling concrete conditions,” said Chair Katie Cristol. “The result will be a safer park that both kids and adults in Arlington who are passionate about skateboarding, inline skating and BMX cycling can enjoy for years to come.” [Arlington County]

Residents Protest Amazon at County Board Meeting — Several public speakers at Saturday’s County Board meeting spoke out against the prospect of Amazon’s second headquarters coming to Arlington. They held signs saying “No Amazon” and decried the company’s “brutal working conditions” and “culture of toxic masculinity,” among other things. [Blue Virginia]

Walter Reed Drive Project Green Lit — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $1.8 million contract to A & M Concrete Corporation to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections on a short but critical segment of South Walter Reed Drive, between South Four Mile Run Drive and South Arlington Mill Drive. The project will provide safer connections between two of Arlington’s busiest trails: Washington & Old Dominion and Four Mile Run.” [Arlington County]

Trees Fall During Heavy Rain — A number of trees around the area fell late last week after a record-breaking stretch of heavy rain. Among the trees to topple was a large one that fell on a home on the 2100 block of N. Vernon Street and injured one person. [Twitter, Washington Post]

Lubber Run Farmers Market OKed — “Field to Table, Inc., an Arlington-based non-profit organization, won the County Board’s approval today to open the Lubber Run Farmer’s Market in the parking lot at Barrett Elementary School, 4401 Henderson Road. The market is expected to open in late May.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Train Derailment in Alexandria — A large contingent of emergency personnel responded to the CSX tracks near Port City Brewing in Alexandria Saturday morning for a freight train that had derailed. About 30 cars came off the tracks but no injuries or hazardous spills were reported. [City of Alexandria, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Vigil for Parkland — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was among those to speak at a candlelight vigil last night in Falls Church for the victims of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. Beyer spoke in favor of stricter gun control measures. [Blue Virginia]

Police Investigate Sound of Gunshots — Arlington County Police investigated a report of shots fired near the intersection of Lee Highway and Glebe Road Friday night. No injuries were reported. [Twitter]

Fmr. Arlington Resident Convicted of Murder — “A jury found a man guilty of multiple counts related to an execution-style shooting that killed three people in a D.C. park in 1991. Benito Valdez, 47, formerly of Arlington, Virginia, was found guilty of first-degree murder while armed.” [WTOP]

Theater’s Pre-Oscar Deal — With the Academy Awards now less than two weeks away, the Regal cinema in Ballston is offering a special deal: a $35 pass to see all nine films nominated for Best Picture. [Patch]

Flyover This Morning — A military flyover is scheduled just after 11 a.m. this morning for a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Taylor Elementary Teacher Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Possession

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A suspended Taylor Elementary gym teacher, accused of smoking pot in the school, has pleaded guilty to marijuana possession.

Luke Lloyd of Fairfax, Va. entered the plea Tuesday morning before Arlington General District Court Judge Frances O’Brien. He was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail, with 20 days suspended. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine and complete substance abuse treatment, we’re told.

Lloyd began serving the net ten day sentence on Friday. Most first-time marijuana offenders walk free, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said her office pushed for a stiffer sentence.

“It’s typical for a first time possession of marijuana case to result in a deferred disposition,” Stamos said. “My office, however, argued against such an outcome given the particular facts of this case. Those facts include what appears to have been a rather steady course of use, at times at the school, that we learned about from an anonymous tip to ACPD.”

A second Taylor P.E. teacher nabbed by police, Michael Diaddigo, was also facing possession of marijuana charges, which have since been dropped. Stamos, however, said charges against Diaddigo are expected to be filed soon in Arlington County Circuit Court, which typically handles more serious criminal cases. Stamos declined to elaborate on the charges, since the case is pending.

Lloyd and Diaddigo were both suspended without pay by Arlington Public Schools “pending the outcome of the legal case,” a spokesman said. So far, there is no word on Lloyd’s employment status following the plea. A third Taylor P.E. teacher who was accused of smoking marijuana at the school is currently on administrative leave.

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Neighbors File Lawsuit After Board Approves Lee Highway Child Care Center

Two neighbors of a planned child care center on Lee Highway filed a lawsuit in Arlington Circuit Court this month to try and stop it opening.

The suit, filed by N. McKinley Street residents Francisca Ferro and Cornelius James Coakley who live right behind the property, is against the proposed Little Ambassadors Academy, which is planning to open at 5801 and 5901 Lee Highway. The Arlington County Board approved the plan at its September meeting.

Little Ambassadors, which already operates two child care centers on Lee Highway, is planning to open another facility that would have space for up to 155 children aged 20 months to 5 years old.

The center would be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and have its rear parking lot converted into an outdoor playground, while the loading area next to N. McKinley Street would be modified to have 20 parking spaces.

But in a complaint filed on October 18, the pair allege that the child care facility will negatively affect parking, traffic congestion and noise in the neighborhood, especially for local residents.

“The Special Use Permit materially impacts Petitioners in a way that is different from the impact on to the general public, by greatly increasing traffic and safety concerns in the vicinity of their residences as a result of the expanding the number of cars permitted to traverse and park in the area,” the complaint reads.

The complaint against the County Board and Little Ambassadors rests on four claims.

First, they allege that the Board did not give neighbors sufficient notice that a hearing on the planned child care facility would be taking place.

By law, those nearby must be given at least five days’ written notice, but Ferro and Coakley said they only heard about the hearing on September 14, two days before it was scheduled to be heard by the County Board.

Second, the pair argue that the County Board broke the Dillon Rule, which limits the power of local government by leaving it up to the state government to delegate powers to localities.

Third, the complaintants say that in having the county Department of Human Services decide on the maximum number of children that can attend, and by having the county Zoning Administrator approve the center’s parking plan, the County Board did not have the power to delegate those tasks and should have done it themselves.

Fourth, the pair also dinged the Board for an “unreasonable exercise of legislative function” in approving the center, meaning it should not have been approved, and said the center’s parking plan violates the county’s Zoning Ordinance.

Arlington zoning calls for one parking space on site for each staff member at a child care center, with one parking space also provided for every 10 children that attend. The complaint says the 20 on-site spaces and four off-site spaces do not add up to enough parking.

In May, the Board added a staff member to the Dept. of Community, Planning, Housing and Development to suggest changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance to help child care centers open.

At the time, Board vice chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow that “our biggest obstacles are within the zoning ordinance in terms of the number of parking spaces required by childcare centers or the amount of indoor vs. outdoor space.”

No hearing date has yet been set for the case.

Photos No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 via Google Maps

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Caffe Aficionado Credit Card Fraud Suspect Pleads Guilty

A co-owner of the former Caffe Aficionado in Rosslyn has pleaded guilty to charges connected to what prosecutors said was a multi-year credit card fraud scheme.

Clark Donat is scheduled to be sentenced next month after pleading guilty in June to a long list of charges: credit card fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, identity theft, credit card forgery, credit card theft, conspiracy to commit credit card theft and conspiracy to commit identity theft.

His former business partner in the cafe, Adiam Berhane, is scheduled to face a jury trial starting Jan. 30, 2018.

According to prosecutors, Donat and Berhane started using the cafe’s point-of-sale system to fraudulently charge gift cards — purchased with stolen credit cards — in June of 2013, before the cafe even opened. The stolen credit card information was bought off the “dark web” and used to manufacture fake credit cards, which were then used to buy gift cards and other items, prosecutors say.

In all, according to prosecutors, the cafe recorded about $1 million in revenue between 2013 and the police raid in October 2016, $450,000 of which was attributable to “gift cards almost entirely purchased with stolen credit card information.”

Counterfeit cards were also used to buy goods at various stores, including TJ Maxx and REI, which were then returned and credited to one of the defendant’s legitimate credit cards, prosecutors allege. A few days before the raid, prosecutors say, the pair used a stolen credit card to pay for a $1,200 large group brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown.

Before the alleged fraud was revealed, Caffe Aficionado garnered rave reviews for its hand-crafted coffee and espresso drinks. A local food critic even called it “one of the finest coffee shops in the area.”

“We’re really happy with it,” Berhane said of the positive reviews. “I think it’s all about service. Follow the Golden Rule, it’s not that hard.”

Donat is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17 in Arlington Circuit Court.

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Public Defenders Object to New County Policy for First-Time Marijuana Offenders

Marijuana(Updated at 1:02 p.m.) A new Arlington General District Court policy to skip appointing a lawyer for some first-time marijuana offenders has local public defenders speaking out.

Under the new policy, which took effect March 1, people caught with a small amount marijuana would not be appointed a lawyer if they have no criminal record and it’s their first pot possession offense.

According to a memo that court officials sent to the Arlington County Bar Association last month, some people caught with pot for the first time can enter a guilty plea and have the charge dismissed as long as they agree to meet “certain conditions” set by the court.

Offenders who qualify would have two weeks from arraignment to consult with an attorney if they choose, but wouldn’t be appointed one.

Though the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “in all criminal prosecutions the accused… shall have assistance of counsel for his defense,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 1979 decision that the right to counsel only applies when a defendant faces imprisonment.

In this case, because the court is waiving jail time for those offenders, it does not legally need to appoint them counsel. Many other courts throughout the U.S. have also similarly waived imprisonment for first-time marijuana offenders.

Arlington’s Office of the Public Defender is protesting the policy on the grounds that it could unfairly affect people who can’t afford lawyers if they want them.

The office made its case in a rebuttal letter shared with ARLnow.com.

“While no doubt unintended, Arlington’s new policy will send us down a slippery slope towards the same scenario for poor people: no lawyers for indigent persons charged with personal-use marijuana possession cases where the court or prosecutor exclude jail time as a sentencing option,” the letter reads.

Matthew Foley, the office’s chief public defender, added that the new policy would “disproportionately affect minorities and immigrants” and possibly deprive them of their due process.

Foley argued that the policy could mislead people into thinking the charges would be expunged from their record, which they may not be. For citizens, he said, the consequences of a criminal record might include loss of educational opportunities, jobs, public benefits, student loans, and the ability to legally drive a car. For non-citizens, the consequences of such a record could mean deportation, the inability to become a citizen or re-enter the country.

“Liberty is not just about jail time,” he told ARLnow.com. “It’s about permanent criminal records, which affect you your entire life.”

Foley continued in the letter:

Assuming a typical indigent defendant can even get a free consultation with a private lawyer, how does that person parlay the attorney’s advice into getting due process? If the consulted lawyer advises that the police stop or search were unlawful, what will the indigent defendant without an appointed attorney be able to do with this advice? What if the person charged is innocent? How does the mere advice of the attorney lead to a just result? If the attorney tells the accused person that the case is weak, but he may be deported if he is found guilty, how does that help? The answer is clear: it will help no more than a doctor advising an uninsured, cash-strapped patient how to remove his tonsils, set a broken leg or cure his cancer.

But Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos disputed Foley’s argument and called his rhetoric “overheated.”

“The idea that somehow this is collusion between my office and the judges to deny people due process is offensive,” Stamos said. “Nobody is trying to ease out the public defender.”

She continued, “I don’t agree that what’s going to happen as a result of this change is that people’s rights are going to be trampled on a daily basis in the courts of Arlington County. That’s not accurate. It’s unfair, it’s untrue, and it’s overheated.”

Stamos argued that cases where first-time marijuana offenders are found innocent are exceedingly rare. Furthermore, Arlington is simply coming into line with the numerous other jurisdictions who have already enacted such policies without much protest.

“The vast majority of these cases, if not all of them, result in either a conviction or a plea of guilty with the disposition that allows them not to have a criminal record,” she said. “If you think that the law should be that, even if your liberty interest is not at stake, that the government should pay for your lawyer, then you need to change the law.”

(For the record, Foley said he supports overturning the Supreme Court’s 1979 decision.)

Still, the policy is unlikely to change any time soon, at least without a test case, Foley said. And Stamos said the court is unlikely to budge on its own.

“I just don’t agree with Matt,” she said. “And the law does not support his position.”

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Morning Notes

Wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery 2016 (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Hunt Loses Mansion Legal Battle — Rodney P. Hunt, once one of the D.C. area’s wealthiest businessmen, has lost a legal battle to keep his $24 million Chain Bridge Road mansion. Hunt, who represented himself in court, asserted that the entity that bought the mansion at a foreclosure auction this summer was not its real owner. While Hunt was living there, the 20,000 square foot property hosted large “#RHPMansion” parties, one of which led to a drive-by shooting in McLean. [Washington Post]

‘Loss of Historic Architecture’ — The historic George Washington Carver Cooperative Apartments in the Arlington View neighborhood were torn down in February. The apartments’ 70-year history as a centerpiece of the working-class African American community there was, however, preserved via oral histories and historic markets. The property is now the Carver Place townhomes, which start at $689,000. So far, 38 of 73 have sold. [Falls Church News-Press]

Road Closure in Lyon Park — Washington Gas pipeline work is prompting a road closure in Lyon Park today and tomorrow. Cyclists who use the Arlington Blvd trail may also be affected. [BikeArlington Forum]

First Day of Winter — Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also known as the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight. [Capital Weather Gang]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Newly-installed solar panels on the rooftop of Buck & Associates in Courthouse (photo courtesy Billy Buck)

Vornado Reveals Big Plans for Crystal City — Vornado, the preeminent property owner in Crystal City, has filed preliminary plans to overhaul a number of its properties in the community. The plans include big changes to the Shops at 1750 retail space, near the entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, and a new multiplex cinema. [Washington Business Journal]

Lyft to Open Regional HQ in Crystal City — Ride hailing app company Lyft is planning to invest $350,000 to open a new regional headquarters in Crystal City, creating 32 jobs locally. “Lyft is thrilled to open our new office in the emerging innovation center of Crystal City,” said Steve Taylor, the company’s general manager for the D.C. area. “We’re extremely pleased by the warm welcome we have received from Governor McAuliffe, and state and county officials.” [Washington Post]

Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Attack on Law Firm Partner — Alecia Schmuhl has pleaded guilty in the vicious 2014 attack on Leo Fisher and his wife Susan Duncan. Prosecutors say Schmuhl and her husband took the couple hostage, slit Fisher’s throat and stabbed Duncan as part of a revenge plot after she was fired by Fisher from the Arlington-based firm of Bean Kinney & Korman. Fisher and Duncan survived the attack. [Washington Post]

Nominations Open for James B. Hunter Award — Arlington County is accepting nominees for the 2016 James B. Hunter Award. The award, named after a former Arlington County Board member, “goes to individuals, community groups, non-profit organizations and business establishments that promote cultural diversity and equal rights for all residents.” [Arlington County]

Photo courtesy Billy Buck

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Morning Notes

Clouds and rays of sunlight above Claremont Immersion School (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Rainy Weekend, Maybe — Hurricane Hermine, which is now a tropical storm after making landfall in Florida, is expected to make its way up the coast and bring rain to the Mid-Atlantic region Saturday and Sunday. The exact track of the storm is still in question, thus it’s unclear just how much rain the D.C. area will get. [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]

Big Immigration Court Delays — A federal immigration court in Crystal City has such a heavy caseload that some hearings are scheduled all the way out to 2024. [Fox 5]

Arlington Native Serving on USS Arlington — Wakefield High School grad Joseph Reed is serving as a fire controlman aboard the USS Arlington, the U.S. Navy ship named after his hometown. [Navy Office of Community Outreach]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Pentagon City Mall Shooting Suspects Sentenced

Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall parking garage, scene of a shooting in December 2015Two men arrested for a shooting outside the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall have been sentenced after entering plea agreements.

Reginald Dana is slated to serve three years in prison after entering an Alford plea for attempted malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Calvin Pelzer will serve a year in jail after pleading guilty to felony eluding and accessory after the fact, according to prosecutors.

The December 2015 shooting was described as a road rage incident at the exit of the mall’s parking garage. Police say Dana fired a gunshot in the air out of frustration with a driver who was having problems using a credit card at one of the gates. Pelzer, the driver, then sped away and tried to elude police who gave chase on I-395. The chase ended near 3rd and F Street NW in D.C., after the two suspects bailed out and started running.

Both men were both 21 years old and D.C. residents at the time of their arrest.

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Courthouse Law Firm’s Reaction to Guilty Verdict for Partner’s Attacker

Alecia and Andrew Schmuhl (photos via FCPD)The man who held a local attorney and his wife captive in their McLean home for hours, torturing them and slashing their throats, has been found guilty on all charges.

Springfield resident Andrew Schmuhl, 33, now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The sentencing will begin Thursday.

Schmuhl’s wife, Alecia, will face trial in September for her role in the attack, which allegedly stemmed from her firing from the Courthouse-based law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman. Victim Leo Fisher was the partner in the firm who fired Schmuhl.

The firm released the following press release about the verdict Tuesday evening.

We are grateful that the jury’s guilty verdicts in the prosecution of Andrew Schmuhl for his brutal assault of our friend and colleague, Leo Fisher, and his wife Sue Duncan, mark the beginning of closure for them. This was a horrific ordeal no one can fully grasp. We appreciate the enormous effort made by the Commonwealth’s Attorney and his office to present a compelling case that has produced a just result, and the hard work of the law enforcement professionals who brought the facts to light. We trust that the jury will now recommend a sentence commensurate with the defendant’s atrocities.

The firm remains deeply indebted to its friends, clients, colleagues and fellow professionals for their constant well-wishes and support throughout this process.

With the conclusion of the sentencing proceedings, Leo may add his comments to those of the firm, but we ask that his and Sue’s continued privacy be respected. Otherwise, as the prosecution of Alecia Schmuhl is continuing, no further comment will be provided from anyone with the firm, apart from our desire that an appropriate outcome in her case will also be achieved.

About Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C.

For more than 50 years, Bean, Kinney & Korman has been a leading Northern Virginia law firm that has continuously grown and diversified to meet the increasingly complex legal needs of its expanding community of clients. Bean, Kinney & Korman provides business/corporate and individual services among a wide range of practice areas.  For more information, visit http://www.beankinney.com.

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Arlington Man Among Group of MS-13 Members Convicted of Murder

List of charges against MS-13 members (image via U.S. Attorney's Office)One Arlington resident, one Alexandria resident and six Falls Church residents were among the dozen suspects convicted of multiple gang-related murders, federal prosecutors said today.

Prosecutors say all 12 were members of the notorious MS-13 street gang, which has a presence in Northern Virginia.

The U.S. Attorney’s office issued the following press release Monday afternoon.

Six members of the street gang La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were convicted today by a federal jury for their roles in three murders and one attempted murder in Northern Virginia, among other charges.

“These violent gang members brutally murdered three men and attempted to murder a fourth,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Extreme violence is the hallmark of MS-13, and these horrific crimes represent exactly what the gang stands for. This was a highly complicated, death penalty eligible case with 13 defendants and more than two dozen defense attorneys. To say I am proud of our trial team and investigative partners is an understatement. I want to thank them for their terrific work on this case and for bringing these criminals to justice.”

“The defendants terrorized our local communities with senseless, depraved acts of threats, intimidation and violence,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “They murdered in the name of MS-13, but as this jury’s verdict makes clear, no gang can protect them from facing justice for their crimes. This verdict sends a clear message that the FBI will hold violent gangs and murderers fully accountable for their actions.  I would like to thank the agents, analysts and prosecutors for their tireless efforts to eradicate gang violence in our communities.”

A total of 13 defendants were charged in this case. Of those, six defendants went to trial and were convicted of all charges. Six defendants pleaded guilty prior to trial, and one defendant was severed from the case and will have a separate trial at a later date. Please see the table at the end of this press release for additional information on each defendant.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, on Oct. 1, 2013, Jose Lopez Torres, Jaime Rosales Villegas and others drove to Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge to murder a fellow gang member.  However, one of the gang members in the car had not only alerted police to the murder plot, he also made recorded phone calls and wore a body wire to a meeting where the gang members, including Pedro Anthony Romero Cruz, who participated from prison on a contraband cell phone, planned the murder. The gang members’ vehicle was under surveillance that night, the victim had been warned to not be at school, and the informant was wearing a body wire.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, on Oct. 7, 2013, Torres, Omar DeJesus Castillo, Juan Carlos Marquez Ayala, Araely Santiago Villanueva, Jose Del Cid, and three others murdered fellow gang member Nelson Omar Quintanilla Trujillo. The gang believed Trujillo was a snitch, and so the gang members lured him to Holmes Run Park in Falls Church, and brutally killed him by stabbing him with knives and slashing him with a machete. When they were done they buried Trujillo in a shallow grave.  Several gang members returned a short time later and, with the assistance of Alvin Gaitan Benitez, reburied the body of Trujillo.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, on March 29, 2014, Castillo, Benitez, Christian Lemus Cerna, Manuel Ernesto Paiz Guevara, Villanueva, Del Cid, and one other murdered Gerson Adoni Martinez Aguilar, a gang recruit, for breaking gang rules.  Like Trujillo, the gang members lured him to Holmes Run Park and killed him. They stabbed him repeatedly, cut off his head, and then buried him in a shallow grave.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, on June 19, 2014, Jesus Alejandro Chavez, Del Cid, and Genaro Sen Garcia murdered Julio Urrutia. Several gang members including Chavez, who had been released from prison eight days earlier, were out looking for rival gang members when they approached a group of young men, flashed their gang signs, and challenged them about their gang affiliation. During the exchange Chavez pulled out a gun and shot Urrutia in the neck at point blank range.

Each defendant convicted at trial faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison when sentenced.  Villegas and Cruz face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit murder charge, in addition to a consecutive minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.  Villegas also faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the attempted murder charge. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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